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Kawhi Set to Make Season Debut

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Kawhi Leonard is targeting Tuesday’s matchup with the Dallas Mavericks to make his season debut, reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Leonard was supposedly considering playing in this weekend’s game against Phoenix, but San Antonio announced they would hold him out until today. Head coach Gregg Popovich confirmed this morning that Kawhi will make his season debut tonight.

After missing the first 27 games of the season, there is no need to rush. It’s not like the Spurs are exactly struggling without him. At 19-8 and solidly third in the conference, San Antonio is right where we all thought they would be despite their best player having yet to play.  Don’t get me wrong, of course Gregg Popovich wants to get his franchise player back on the floor. The fact that Leonard has missed this much time with a somewhat mysterious quadriceps tendinopathy injury is troubling.

Kawhi is coming off a season where he scored a career-high 25.5 points per game. His 48/48/88 shooting split was just shy of the exclusive 50/40/90 club. The Spurs offense leaned on Leonard heavily, and he responded. But when he went down in the playoffs, San Antonio was dead in the water. Through this first quarter of the season, the team has had to grow without Kawhi; and that will prove to be useful as the year progresses.

LaMarcus Aldridge has reasserted himself as a star in this league, scoring 22.8 points and grabbing 8.1 rebounds per game. He’s shooting 50% from the floor and 85% at the foul line and has flourished as a primary option without Kawhi. It seems as though postseason overreactions about how well Aldridge really fits in San Antonio may have been premature. After signing a 3 year, $72 million extension, LaMarcus is living up to his commitment and looks to have found some comfort within the Spurs’ offense.

As San Antonio has done for two decades under Popovich, they plug players in and continue to win. Kyle Anderson has played well starting in place of the injured Leonard. Rudy Gay is fitting right in and proving to be a great acquisition. The Spurs also recently got starting point guard Tony Parker back from injury. Parker missed the first 19 games of the season, and has played well since returning. He recorded 10 points and 9 assists on 5-7 shooting in 19 minutes of play against Miami, and 11 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists in the win over Boston, before resting on the second night of a back-to-back.

Whenever the Spurs have players go down, previously unheralded players step up. This is just the way the world works. In Parker’s absence Dejounte Murray gained valuable experience and earned rotation minutes, as has Kyle Anderson.  Reserve guards Bryn Forbes and Brandon Paul have also played well when given the opportunity. It will be interesting to see what the rotation becomes when Kawhi is back, and how many minutes Pop will play him early on.

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About Preston Dubey

Lifelong basketball fanatic and Bucks' supporter I coach basketball; but I eat, sleep, and breathe the game.

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